Marina Abramovic

We meet the bold Serbian artist for an interview and covershoot in advance of Frieze Art Fair 2010

© Scott Chasserot

Do you get annoyed when your work is described as 'therapy'?

'If you make bread in a bakery, you're a baker, but if you make the same bread in a gallery, you're an artist. It's the context that makes the difference. My context is not therapy or new-age religion or any of this: it's always been art. A good work of art has many lives and I really want to have many lives.'

You were a painter in Belgrade. What made you use yourself as the canvas? 'It was truly one moment. I was lying on the grass when these ultrasonic [sic] fighter jets made this incredible abstract drawing across the sky and then disappeared. It was an almost spiritual revelation for me; I thought: What am I doing making this two-dimensional shit? I can use real fire, real water, my own body.

'I went to the military base, because my father was a general, to ask if I could borrow 12 planes and they told me I was nuts. After I cut a communist star into my skin for one performance, they had a meeting to discuss putting me in a mental hospital.'

You're showing the '70s 'Rhythm' series here in London. Were they your most extreme works?

'The two pieces that were the most dangerous for my life were ones where I didn't have any control. In 'Rhythm 0' [1975] I allowed the audience to move and manipulate me, and someone put a loaded pistol to my head. In 1980 with Ulay we performed 'Rest Energy'; with a bow and arrow pointed at my heart, which could have killed me. We're all afraid of suffering and dying but pain is an illusion and the body is just the tool. The mind controls everything.'

Interview: Ossian Ward

See Marina's London shows

  • Frieze Art Fair 2010

    Critics' choice Until Sun Oct 17, Regent's Park

    Marina will be showing at stand B7 at the Fair.

  • Marina Abramovic

    FreeCritics' choiceLast chance Until Sat Nov 13, Lisson Gallery

    Major showing of work by the influential and confrontational artist, whose performances challenge her own body's physical and psychologic...